BANGOR, Maine — Patients at Penobscot Community Health Care clinics will be part of an 18-month pilot program that will measure whether the comprehensive care they get keeps them healthier, holds down spending and reduces hospital admissions.
Officials, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, gathered at the organization’s Union Street clinic on Thursday in recognition of National Health Center Week and to celebrate the inclusion of three PCHC sites — two in Bangor and one in Old Town — in a statewide study of the “patient-centered medical home” model of delivering health care.
Over time, the medical home model is expected to reduce health care spending by improving wellness and decreasing emergency room visits and hospital admissions. It includes measures such as expanding health clinic hours, seeing patients the same day they request an appointment, providing support services such as patient education and follow-up phone calls, and making it easy for patients to get dental care and mental health services. It also calls for providing telephone or e-mail consultations and maintaining electronic medical records to improve care and compile data for research.
Speaking at the PCHC gathering, Dr. Josh Cutler, director of the Maine Quality Forum, said primary care providers play a key role in improving individuals’ health while holding down health care spending. Yet only 2 percent of medical students interviewed in a recent survey indicated they planned to enter the field instead of a higher-paid specialty, setting the stage for a “looming shortage” of primary care providers, Cutler said.
Michaud, who has aligned himself with a fiscally conservative group of Blue Dog Democrats in Congress, stressed the importance of reformulating Medicare payments as part of the national health system reform effort under way in Washington.
Public health clinics such as PCHC that rely heavily on public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid for funding must not be negatively affected by the reform legislation, he said.
“Hopefully, when we come up with a package at the federal level, it will enhance the work you’ve been doing here,” he said.
A total 26 medical practices statewide will participate in the medical home study. The study is being funded by the Maine Quality Forum, a branch of the state’s Dirigo Health Agency; the nonprofit Maine Health Management Coalition; and the Maine Health Access Foundation, formed with the proceeds of the 1999 sale of Maine’s nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield programs to the for-profit Anthem health insurance corporation.
PCHC will partner with the nonprofit Ann Arbor-based Altarum Institute during the study to improve patient care and streamline administrative functions.